Volume 31, October 2003: Optimism

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2003 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Above the cloud with its shadow is a star with its light.” — Victor Hugo

“Man is affected not by his circumstances, but rather the view he takes of them.” — Albert Ellis re-quoting William James

“Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope.” — Martin E.P. Seligman


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Useful Websites & Newsletters
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Selecting optimistic people to fill the ranks.
  • Placing optimistic individuals in crucial niches and high-stress, high-defeat jobs that require persistence.
  • Teaching optimism at work. Optimism is learnable.
  • Purveying hope – the opportunity to serve, to be needed, to see a future.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

When things go wrong, what do you tell yourself? Listen to your own internal dialogue. Is it negative, permanent (“This will ruin my career”), pervasive (“People are always like this”), and personal (“I must be really incompetent”)? Begin to dispute your pessimistic explanations, and talk back to the little voice. “Well, that was a learning experience.” “This guy must be having a bad day.” “No point in being down on myself – mistakes like this happen to everyone.” Emerge from helplessness, take control of your thinking, and energize yourself into action.

Frequently Asked Questions

“What role has Pollyanna in the business world?”
Mind you, we are not talking about a giddy, foolish spin on everything, but rather the way people deal with setbacks and misfortunes. The pay-offs for business are considerable. The correlates of optimism have been found to be:
  • positive mood and good morale
  • perseverance
  • effective problem-solving
  • academic, military, occupational, and political success
  • good health
  • long life
  • freedom from trauma

Conversely, a pessimistic style has been linked to:

  • depression
  • passivity
  • self-fulfilling failure
  • social estrangement
  • morbidity and mortality
“People seem to be stuck in a “gripe mode.” Suggestions?”
Deconstruct the complaint. What’s behind it? What are the specifics? What is changeable? What are we all committed to, that can guide us in moving forward? Have a Whine-and-Cheese party. Get out the gripes, cull out constructive suggestions, and declare these whines off-limits after the party. We are now about the future and the role we take in changing it.
“Do you ever take the advice you dish out?”
Just as this e-zine issue was first completed two weeks ago, my laptop was stolen and many important items were not backed up. There went all the work I had done on this issue. Compounded by physically relocating my office. I learn as I teach (twice-learned) and I had been picking up a lot from Martin Seligman that helped me tremendously. Depression assaults women twice as often as men, which he believes is attributable to rumination (women have a thinking style that contemplates and analyzes, whereas men tend to act). We are also better at “learned helplessness” – a belief that our actions will be futile. Pessimism predicts who will get depressed, stay depressed, and relapse. I had to de-catastrophize this situation. This loss would not ruin my life and my business. This is at most an inconvenience. Seligman coached: “Focus on the changeable” (It was time to get a better computer – let’s shop!), “The specific” (It’s just a piece of equipment and I recently backed up, plus I kept all my software elsewhere), and “The non-personal” (I didn’t do anything to call this on myself). I got busy, called police, insurance companies, and gave myself a couple of weeks off to recover my momentum, plus I kept reading on Optimism, because I needed to.


Seligman's lesson syllabi and unit plans: Positive Psychology.

The results of a workshop on cognitive coping skills: Psychology Help Center.

A self test on optimism: Spirituality and Health Magazine.

How to become a power optimist: Dana Lightman.

Useful Websites & Newsletters

Insights on the Wealthy Soul: 9 Insights of the Wealthy Soul.


  • Aspinwall, Lisa G. & Staudinger, Ursula M. A Psychology of Human Strengths. APA Books, 2003.
  • Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Good Business: Leadership, Flow and the Making of Meaning. Viking Press, 2003.
  • Flach, Frederic F. Resilience: How to Bounce Back When the Going Gets Tough. Hatherleigh Press, 1997.
  • Keyes, Corey L.M. & Haidt, Johnathan. Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived. APA Books, 2003.
  • Peterson, Christopher. “The Future of Optimism.” American Psychologist, January 2000, 44-55.
  • Reivich, Karen & Shatte, Andrew. The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life’s Inevitable Obstacles, Broadway Books, 2002.
  • Seligman, Martin E. P. Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Free Press, 1998.
  • Snyder, C.R. & Lopez, Shane J. Handbook of Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Young-Eisendrath, Polly. The Resilient Spirit: Transforming Suffering into Insight and Renewal. Perseus Publishing, 1997.


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